With 72 votes in favor, the Parliament of Georgia in its third hearing on April 29 adopted controversial amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses, envisaging increased penalties for repeated acts of petty hooliganism and police disobedience, also expanding the duration of administrative detention, among others. The rushed changes were met with criticism from the opposition and civil society organizations.
According to the amendments, tabled by ruling Georgian Dream party MPs on April 26 and endorsed via expedited consideration, the valid length of administrative detention will be expanded from 12 hours to 24 hours. An additional 24 hours may be added if necessary for gathering further evidence, making the maximum detention duration 48 hours.
In addition, a repeated act of petty hooliganism will result in a fine of GEL 1,500-2,000 (USD 435-580), up from the current GEL 500-1000 (USD 145-290), or administrative detention for a period of 7 days to 15 days.
The penalty for police disobedience is increased from GEL 1,000 (USD 290) to GEL 2,000 (USD 580), while repeating the violation will be fined with GEL 3,500-4,500 (USD 1,015-1,300) or administrative detention for a period of 7 to 15 days. The changes also restrict judges from issuing a verbal warning instead of imposing an administrative sanction.
Ruling party lawmakers cited rising cases of administrative offenses, arguing the changes will introduce effective measures to prevent future violations.
Before today’s plenary session, United National Movement MP Salome Samadashvili said the changes “run contrary to the principles of freedom of speech and expression in the country,” and contradict the spirit of the EU-brokered April 19 agreement between the opposition and the ruling party. She called for postponing the vote and holding further discussions with the opposition involved.
Ana Natsvlishvili, MP of the Lelo for Georgia party, noted the amendments attempt to “suppress the right to protest” of citizens who are dissatisfied with the current governance, noting that the rising cases of administrative offenses are linked with “legitimate” public discontent. “You can not intimidate these people with an increased fine or imprisonment,” MP Natsvlishvili asserted.
CSOs: Changes Threaten Free Political Expression
The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), a key watchdog, said earlier on April 27 that the changes fail to deliver on necessary comprehensive reform and instead tightens the “repressive aspect” of the code. This, the watchdog argued, “will have a detrimental effect on human rights.” GYLA also said that expedited consideration, on “unclear” grounds, hindered public engagement on the matter.
The Social Justice Center, another local watchdog, stated on April 28 that the amendments “open up even more room for arbitrary use of repressive police mechanisms and sanctions,” stressing that court decisions on administrative offenses are “often” solely based on the testimonies of police officers, and therefore disregard defendants’ right to a fair trial.
Noting that law enforcement, in practice, mainly issues sanctions for administrative offenses during rallies and demonstrations, the Social Justice Center said the changes “will further encumber the standards of peaceful assembly in the country and will be a serious barrier to political expression.”